I finally read these two books by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett on Sunday after having them on my shelf for months, both beautiful testaments to the natural world...
“All through the night I twitch my heart. / Swimming is a kind of hiccup / that jolts the body clean apart.” In Swims, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett composes a long poem through recounting twelve swims, moving across water from England to Wales and back, starting and finishing in Devon’s Teign and Dart rivers respectively. The sequence is interrupted somewhat part-way through by three poems written for Burnett’s father, which deviate from the swimming structure while reframing her relationship with the water. Formally varied and experimental, and spun with such lyrical mastery, this debut collection is a gorgeous love-letter to swimming, an ode to what the water can do for body and spirit.
“The glitter of it settling on the furniture; a golden snow that warms as it falls and melts as it stores all the day’s light, all the days of days of light.” In her “geological memoir” The Grassling, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett presents an “encyclopedia of the soil”, a story about her life and her father, their family history and how it lies in the land. The first part of the book beautifully situates Burnett’s memoir in the landscape, while the second half explodes the form open, the final four letters of the alphabet stretched out like time dilating, escalating both the poetic aspects and the nature writing, juxtaposing her tender memoir with an extraordinary, evocative account of the eponymous Grassling. The quality of feeling and craft, especially as the layered and lyrical prose reaches its conclusion, is sublime and truly magnificent.
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